Corporations Want Tort Reform…So Only They Can Sue You

BP_Logo1An oil release from BP imperils the seas, careless financial firms put economies and governments at risk, and a mine in West Virgina (run by a company with a despicable safety record) explodes.

Cereal companies lie about their products’ ability to bolster immunity during an epidemic, cars accelerate for no apparent reason, and pharma companies market birth-control drugs to improve mood and complexion.

The need for corporate liability — not to mention the hypocrisy of “caps” — has never been clearer.

Businesses want the courts all to themselves
Corporations want tort reform to keep people from suing them. And, hypocritically, they want to be free to sue you.

A single track of music can be a $15,000 copyright award.  Playing a song in a gym or barber shop can draw fines for public performance.  Jail-breaking your iPhone or providing false information when signing up for a social network can be prosecuted as serious offenses.

Businesses also want to sue each other. Our friends at The Pop Tort recently found a great example of this hypocrisy:

We are thrilled to report that Wright Medical Group Inc and Howmedica Osteonics Corp., a subsidiary of Stryker Corp., have resolved their copyright infringement lawsuit “The lawsuit, which was filed in 2000, alleged that Wright Medical’s Advance knee implant product violated a patent held by Howmedica, which sought an order of infringement and unspecified damages.” We thought this one was particularly ironic given that right now, medical device companies are completely immune for any liability for implanting defective devices into people. How nice that their copyright complaints haven’t been touched.

So, let’s see:  BP wants to cap claims of liability, as does Massey Energy, Toyota, and Bayer. But if you spoof their logos, they are quite free to file a meritless SLAPP lawsuit (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”) or takedown demand. The same corporations that claim political speech rights, seek to limit the access of real people to the courts.

Corporations are working to have it both ways for themselves. But the events of day are making that pretty hard.

In 2010, civil justice is broadly relevant in a way it hasn’t been for decades.
And, if this causes defensive medicine, more product testing, and redundancy to prevent environmental catastrophes … but, maybe it’s about time. This may be the decade when the laissez-faire “market knows best” ethic of the 80’s shifts to a market directed toward civic good, or at least the avoidance of creating new civic ills.  And those ills, so far, seem to define this new decade more than any other zeitgeist.

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